The interaction of cadmium (Cd) with photosynthesis was investigated in poplar (Populus x canadensis Mönch., clone A4A, Populus nigra L., clone Poli) and willow (Salix alba L., clone SS5) clones that had different leaf metal concentrations in preliminary experiments. Plants grown in the presence of 50 μm CdSO4 for 3 weeks under hydroponic conditions were used to examine leaf gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence parameters and images, and for Cd detection using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF). Leaves were finally analysed for Cd and phytochelatin concentrations. Results showed that SS5 had the highest leaf Cd concentration and high gas exchange activity similar to that of Poli, which had the lowest Cd concentration. Leaf fluorescence images evidenced in large undamaged areas of SS5 corresponded to high values of Fv/Fm, Fo, ΦPSII, qP and NPQ, while patches of dark colour (visible necrosis) close to the main vein corresponded to low values of these parameters. In A4A, these necrotic patches were more diffuse on the leaf blade and associated with a range of fluorescence parameter values. ED-XRF analysis indicated that Cd was only detectable in necroses of SS5 leaves, while in A4A it was relatively more diffuse. Phytochelatins (PCs) were not detected in SS5, while their concentration was high in both Poli and A4A. The absence of these molecules in SS5 is thought to favour confinement of high accumulations of Cd to necrotic areas and gives SS5 the ability to maintain high photosynthesis and transpiration in remaining parts of the leaf.